True cost of healthy eating – National Consumers League

By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow

The Economic Research Service (ERS) has recently released a study entitled “Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive? It Depends on How You Measure the Price.”  This study dispels a common myth: the myth that it is in fact more expensive to buy healthy foods than it is to buy junk food.

The authors of the study looked at price in several ways.

  • Price per calorie
  • Price by weight
  • Price by serving

Previous studies have shown that when price is measured the first way, that is by how much you pay for each calorie, healthy foods like fruits and vegetables are more expensive that foods like cookies and chips. However, this new study by ERS shows that when price is measured by weight and serving size, healthier foods are actually more affordable.

And really, price per calorie is a misleading way to think about this. Who, after all, can easily consume 500 calories of broccoli? It is much easier to eat 500 calories worth of sweets or salty snack foods. Unhealthy foods have more calories per serving than do food like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Looking at average serving size, while still not perfect, presents a clearer picture of cost than does cost per calorie.

The major takeaway from this story is that it is possible to eat healthy foods and not break the bank. Even those with lower incomes can feed their families in accordance with MyPlate recommendations in a cost-effective way. The real problem is that, according to a new study done by the International Food Information Council, 52 percent of Americans think “figuring out what you should and shouldn’t eat to be healthier” is more difficult than doing their taxes.

Right now many people don’t know what to eat to be healthy and even if they do know, they don’t think these options are affordable. Education about healthy foods is the place to start if we want to conquer the growing obesity epidemic.